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Griffin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

April 6, 2018

BRENT E. GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY J. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (DE 17, 19, 21) on Plaintiff's appeal, pro se, of the Commissioner's denial of an application for disability insurance benefits.[1] The matter having been fully briefed by the parties is now ripe for this Court's review.


         In May 2013, Plaintiff filed his current application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging disability beginning August 19, 2008 (Tr. 152-63).[2] His application was denied at the initial levels of review and, after a de novo hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 14, 2015. (Tr. at 20-36.) The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 6-9), making the ALJ's decision the final agency decision for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481, 422.210(a). This appeal followed.


         Plaintiff has presented no summation of the record evidence in his pleadings and has not objected to that presented by the United States. The Court has reviewed the record and concludes that the United States' summary accurately represents the material and will adopt it in large part in this memorandum opinion and order.

         Plaintiff was 43 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 141). He has a high school education with vocational training in welding (Tr. 232). Plaintiff's past relevant work was as a truck driver (Tr. 232, 701). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to extreme anger, fainting, dizziness, leg swelling, depression, chest pain, back pain, a cardiac condition, and kidney disease (Tr. 231).

         Plaintiff had treatment for various conditions including kidney disease, heart disease, back pain, and mood disorder (Tr. 246, 251-78, 281-99, 381-88, 450-94, 523-29, 530-44, 587-617). In March 2012, an x-ray documented early degenerative changes in Plaintiff's low back but no disc herniations or changes of spinal stenosis (Tr. 243). Cardiologist Ashwani Anand, M.D., treated Plaintiff with medication management and regular follow up visits (Tr. 244-50, 279-97). He regularly found Plaintiff had normal heart rate and rhythm with no clicks, murmurs, or rubs; normal respiratory effort with no increased work of breathing or signs of respiratory distress and clear lungs; normal muscle strength, gait, and range of motion; and normal mood and affect (Tr. 246, 282, 285, 289, 295).

         Sayed K. Hasni, M.D., treated Plaintiff for kidney disease also with medications and routine follow up (Tr. 381-88, 587-617). Treatment notes showed Plaintiff generally denied having any anxiety, mood changes, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, numbness, or weakness (Tr. 589, 593, 597, 601, 605, 609, 611, 621). Examinations consistently showed he was alert, oriented to time and place, and not in acute distress and had either 1 or 2 pitting edema but otherwise normal cardiovascular, vascular, and neurological findings, along with normal gait (Tr. 589-90, 593-94, 597-98, 601- 02, 605-06, 609-10, 612).

         In connection with his current application for benefits, Plaintiff underwent physical and psychological consultative examinations in July and August 2013, respectively. Robert L. Nold, M.D., found Plaintiff had limitation of neck and shoulder motion, a fine tremor in both hands, and discoloration of his lower legs, but normal muscle bulk and tone and full (5/5) grip strength (Tr. 300). Plaintiff had decreased (3/5) strength in his legs, but he had a normal gait and did not use a cane or have a limp (Tr. 301). Dr. Nold opined that Plaintiff was limited to lifting 20 to 25 pounds occasionally and five to 10 pounds frequently. He thought Plaintiff could stand for an hour at a time and for four hours in an eight-hour workday, and that kneeling may be somewhat difficult (Tr. 302).

         Crystal Sahner, Psy.D., found Plaintiff performed poorly on the mental status examination. He did not know the date and the year and his performance on the concentration tasks was so poor he had to be asked to concentrate harder (Tr. 312). Plaintiff relied on his wife to provide more of the history and information, although at times, Plaintiff intervened and indicated what she was saying was not correct. Plaintiff presented as mildly agitated and indicated he had very angry thoughts. He had an adequate fund of information and demonstrated normal abstract thinking and intact reality testing (Tr. 313). Dr. Sahner noted that Plaintiff's effort was inconsistent during the examination as there were times when he responded quickly and did not appear to put too much effort into the response and other times when his response appeared to be adequate and genuine (Tr. 314). Dr. Sahner assessed mood disorder and polysubstance dependence in remission and assigned a GAF score of 50 to 51. She opined that Plaintiff had adequate ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions towards the performance of simple repetitive tasks, although there should not be a long delay between the onset of the task and the instruction (Tr. 314). Dr. Sahner thought Plaintiff's ability to interact appropriately with others in a workplace setting was markedly affected due to irritability, impulsivity, and personality issues and his ability tolerate stress and pressure of employment was markedly affected due to difficulties with mood and impulse control. She indicated that Plaintiff's ability to sustain attention and concentration towards the performance of simple repetitive tasks was moderately affected (Tr. 315).

         State agency medical consultants reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and provided opinions about Plaintiff's mental and physical limitations. In September 2013, Lea Perritt, Ph.D., opined that Plaintiff was limited to simple tasks with infrequent changes in routine and work that involves only occasional interaction with others. She also thought Plaintiff should not work in a fast-paced environment (Tr. 378). Allen Dawson, M.D., also reviewed Plaintiff's records and assessed limitations consistent with a range of light work with additional postural and environmental restrictions (Tr. 367-73). In December 2013, psychologist Ed Ross, Ph.D., concluded that Plaintiff was restricted to simple tasks with infrequent changes to routine and no exposure to fast paced environments with accommodates occasional contact with others (Tr. 497). P. Saranga M.D., assessed limitations consistent with a range of light work with additional postural and environmental limitations (Tr. 515-21).

         At the hearing held on July 1, 2015, Plaintiff testified that he stopped working as a truck driver because he passed out at the wheel and caused an accident (Tr. 681). He said that he had extreme chest pain everyday along with numbness in his arms, and swelling in his legs. Plaintiff indicated that nitroglycerin eased his pain for a couple of hours (Tr. 685). He estimated that he could sit for 20 minutes at a time and stand for 20 minutes at a time (Tr. 687). Plaintiff thought he could lift no more than five to 10 pounds (Tr. 689). He testified that he showered only every three to four days because it caused his feet to swell and become discolored (Tr. 692). Plaintiff indicated that his wife did all the housework and cleaning. He reported that he had to lie down several times a day, three to four days a week because of fatigue and lightheadedness (Tr. 694-95).

         Vocational expert Julian M. Nadolsky, Ed.D., testified in response to a series of hypothetical questions, one of which concerned an individual of Plaintiff's vocational profile who could do light work with additional environmental, postural, and mental limitations (Tr. 706). The expert testified that the individual could do the unskilled light jobs of electrical ...

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